A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Sophisticated Cave Dwellers
Volume 63 Number 1, January/February 2010
This year has to be remembered for several breakthroughs in understanding Upper Paleolithic culture. Excavations at cave sites in three different parts of the world have pushed back the dates for use of fibers, the earliest pottery, and music. I'm also impressed by the fact that each of these came about through very careful digging. That suggests to me that similar procedures at other sites would yield more such finds.
In the Republic of Georgia, 34,000-year-old flax fibers were found at Dzudzuana Cave by a team including Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard and colleagues from the Georgian State Museum and Hebrew University (Israel). The fibers, from wild plants, were cut, twisted and even dyed gray, black, turquoise, and pink, likely with local vegetable dyes. Some were twisted indicating they were from rope or string. Before now oldest fibers were known as imprints on clay objects from Dolni Vestonice in Czech Republic dating to 28,000 years ago.
Pottery from Yuchanyan Cave in China was dated to 17,500-18,300 years ago as the result of extensive radiocarbon dating and very precise excavation by Elisabetta Boaretto of Bar Ilan University, Israel, and U.S. and Chinese colleagues. That's earlier than other Upper Paleo pottery known from Japan and the Amur River basin of eastern Russia. But who knows, similar digging and dating at sites there might pinpoint equally early pottery.
The third discovery--a nearly complete bone flute from southwestern Germany's Hohle Fels Cave--was actually made in 2008, but was published just this year. Fragments enough to reconstruct an instrument about nine inches long were found by the team of Nicholas J. Conard of the University of Tubingen. If complete, the flute, made from the wing bone of a griffon vulture, would have been around 12 inches. Together with flutes found earlier at the nearby sites of Vogelherd and Geissenkloesterle Cave, it pre-dates by five millennia the next oldest examples, which are from France and Austria.
All three of these discoveries show that Upper Paleolithic cultures were much richer than conceived of in the past and at an early date. That's pretty exciting.Share